Friday, August 30, 2013

The Daleks - "But, my dear child, don't you realise what I've done? A few simple tools ... A superior brain."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Daleks - Details

Season 1, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #2) | Previous - Next | Index

Get y'r mercury hee-ah!

The Doctor is still a bit pissed about having Ian and Barbara aboard and isn't above sabotaging the TARDIS to force the others into agreeing to explore the city they've spotted on the unknown planet upon which they've found themselves. Devious, he is. And reckless. He doesn't know it yet, or what it even signifies, but it's Skaro. Well, it is his ship and the urge to explore is natural, if not always well-considered ... and it seems they do really need that mercury now to repair the doohickey. (They don't, of course, we'll learn later, as the effects of radiation sickness are beginning to wear them down, that they didn't need to go looking for it after all.)

The Daleks still via Cathode Ray Tube
That awkward moment ...
But what you really want to know about this story, is whether or not it's Dalek-y enough, right? Episode 1 ends with an eyestalk's view down the length of a plunger arm, Barbara screaming at the other end. It's our first taste ... we're about to meet our first Dalek. Episode 1, up to that point is basically establishing that the Doctor is a jerk and letting the characters start to explore Skaro. It's fine, but we know we're being built up to a reveal.

A few minutes into the second episode a squadron of Daleks capture Ian, Susan, and the Doctor and we finally see and hear them. From this point on, yes, this story is Dalek-y enough. They're the first go at the Daleks though, so let's keep in mind they are limited, know it, and are still learning about their limitations. These are not yet the Daleks that will menace the universe and dog the Doctor throughout time and space. Ace could take one of these Daleks with her un-Doctored baseball bat.

Ian is the first to truly suffer as a result of their travelling when he's zapped by a Dalek and his legs are temporarily paralyzed. Sure, we saw gruesome death in "An Unearthly Child," but it was a caveman bashing another caveman's head in; this is the first time the danger seems very real for the companions. The radiation sickness adds another layer of peril, so the clock is ticking when Susan is allowed by the Daleks to venture out (being the only one capable of walking at this point)  to get some medicine. She's so frightened and anxious it's really uncomfortable to watch her lurch through the petrified forest, sobbing and gasping. It's here that we're introduced to the Thals and we've got all the bricks of the world-building in place, the story and properly get moving.

The Thals though, they are kind of dippy. Dressed liked Flash Gordon rejects, vaguely Aryan, they're not the kind of heroes it's easy to root for against the more intriguing, albeit evil, Daleks. We don't want the Daleks to prevail, of course, but Terry Nation doesn't seem to want us to be pulling too hard for the Thals either. This undermines the drama a bit, as we really only care about TARDIS crew, not so much whether they help the Thals survive.

Ian is remarkable ... even after getting paralyzed from the waist down, and having to send Susan out to take on a mission he knows he should be doing, he can he soldiers on. As soon as he is able, he starts doing all the dirty work, like climbing in a Dalek casing and trying to pass as a Dalek. Whenever's there's something dangerous that needs doing, he's the one who's ready to put his life on line to get it done. First to jump the chasm as he leads a Thal party through the dangerous mountain route to attack the Dalek city from the rear, there's never any doubt he's the natural leader of any group he's in ... except of course, he defers to the Doctor as the leader of the TARDIS. The Doctor may not be most sterling character, the most fit, but he's brains of the outfit and the owner of the ship they travel in, so Ian, ever so British, I suppose, fits himself into the hierarchy where he belongs, the loyal lieutenant.

This is where I think the show feels the most British to we Americans. In an alternate-reality American Who show, I think Ian would have displaced the Doctor as the lead character. (And the show would have ended after three seasons ... ) But he's so likable, this guy. So determined and unflappable. Here in the early going, even if we think he may be a bit of a square, we really hope he's the guy who saves the day and we've no doubt that, if anyone can, he can.

And he becomes even more sympathetic when it seems Barbara has totally got eyes for one of the strapping young Thals. Why not Ian?!  When Barbara kisses that one guy at the end (I'm skipping over a lot here and remind you to read the plot description if that's what you're after from the link at the top of the page) I think we're all a bit shocked and wonder if, off-screen, our Barbara didn't take a lover! Good for her, if so, but "Keep steadfast Ian in mind," we want to whisper in her ear ...

And yes, the Daleks do talk about extermination and it is wonderful:
DOCTOR: That's sheer murder.
DALEK 1: No, extermination.
Because, you don't 'murder' vermin.

Stray Thoughts:

It's going to take a full post, or series of posts, to talk about canon, ret-conning, and what we are to make of all the different versions of history we see over the course of the series. No Kaleds or Davros mentioned or implied in this story so, make this fit in with "Genesis of the Daleks" however you think best. There is no right answer.

Terry Nation gets the credit for the Daleks, but there's an argument to be made for their design (not his doing at all, we credit Ray Cusick for that) being every bit as integral to their iconic status, and therefore the survival and success of the series in the early years.

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